User Acquisition For Time-Strapped Indie Game Developers

Dive into a few articles and videos about mobile game acquisition strategies, and you may end up feeling like an underachiever. Gurus for top studios talk about tinkering with every possible channel — ads, social media, websites, YouTube and Twitch streamers, and a half dozen others.
But smaller studios, without a dedicated marketing person, can’t necessarily do it all. Some forms of marketing require specialized knowledge. Others just require too much time for too little payback. For a small studio already under the strain of trying to ship a game, just a few more hours a week can be too much.
At times, it’s best to pick and choose where to focus efforts. Here’s unsweetened review of a few user acquisition channels, to help decide whether they’re worth your time.
Ads: Worth it, if you can work smart
The good news about mobile in-app ads is that newbies have an advantage. Companies that run ads every day face “ad blindness”, when users that have seen their ads before ignore them. New ads benefit from being fresh to each viewer. And on a network like Chartboost, which has 900 million users, there are plenty of viewers available.
The bad news is that advertising takes more than a day to learn. Good marketers A/B test extensively, creating multiple ad sets with variations on the images, video or text — and then accurately measuring the performance. However, it is possible to learn on a small budget. Just $10 per day, per ad platform, can be enough to identify the ads that work and draw in a few users daily. And since the effectiveness of ads is measured by direct installs, you never have to be uncertain whether your efforts are panning out. You should get results — or mistakes you can learn from — within days.
On Chartboost, you can check out our page on starting a new campaign, or watch this handy video.
App store ads: A good alternate
When search ads on app stores first came out, indie developers met it with skepticism. Many wondered if the ads, which appear within search results on iOS or Google Play, were just another way to lose money.
But these ads do work. Nordeus, a leading indie, has written about its success with Google Play search ads. Apple has tried to sweeten the pot by offering a $100 credit for signing up. Since these ads are based primarily on keywords, they may be an even friendlier option for the smallest developers.
Organic social media: Stay focused
Everyone knows you need to be on social media. On the other hand, using multiple services may be too time intensive. Studies on social show that you have to post at least once a day on Facebook and Instagram to keep users engaged, or as many as 15 times a day on Twitter.
To start out, choose one or two platforms, based on where users in your game’s genre hang out. Casual gamers may be more spread out across Facebook or Instagram. More niche, hardcore players who like MOBA or MMORPGs may be talking strategy on TouchArcade forums or specific subreddits like r/AndroidGaming.
Create content calendars at the beginning of every month to help stay focused. Schedule posts in advance using services like Buffer, so you don’t need to agonize about what to post every day.
Websites: Cool, but probably not worth it
Everyone wants a cool website to show off their work. But for marketing apps, a website by itself won’t drive many users to your game.
Websites are still useful for attributing your leads. For instance, if you post a link to your game on Instagram, it can first lead to a unique backlink on your site, allowing for easy tracking. Some marketers also use feature pages to get users more excited before they download. Just keep the time investment low: professional games marketer Justin Carroll recommends Squarespace, a drag and drop website builder with ready made templates that’ll cost you $12 per month.
Influencer marketing:
Streaming works. But the tactic is generally most effective for PC and console games. Only a few well known streamers focus on mobile, and those who do usually play games that are already popular, like Clash Royale.
If you’re able to pay for sponsored videos, you’ll find that influencers become more platform agnostic — although the price is often several thousand dollars. You can find influencers on services like Matchmade and Wehype.
For free exposure, developers can take their chances with Keymailer, a free service that sends game keys to streamers. However, finding quality streamers is not guaranteed.
Alternatively, mobile developers can harness the power of influencers by working with them to create a game. For instance, Outerminds drew YouTube superstar PewDiePie’s attention with a game about him, called PewDiePie’s Paradise Island. Impressed, the streamer asked Outerminds to create a second game, with his input. Thanks to PewDiePie’s coverage of his own game, it became the number 1 paid app in over 50 countries.
More than half of the world is on mobile. The challenge today isn’t finding places to recruit users — instead, it’s making sure you focus on the best channels for your studio.
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